24th April 2020
The second Scottish Natural Capital Accounts (NCA) were published in March 2020, by The Office for National Statistics (ONS), for the Scottish Government. The Accounts highlight the relative importance of services provided by Scottish natural capital, and contain estimates for the quantity and value of those services.
The report builds upon last year's inaugural NCA, in what continues to be a developing area of research. As before, the Accounts do not incorporate all ecosystem services, and so the monetary accounts should be interpreted as a partial or minimum value of Scotland’s natural assets.
In terms of the 2020 NCA, we outline some of the main points that stood out below.
Scotland’s natural capital – a significant asset.
In terms of total asset valuation, Scottish natural capital was valued at £196 billion for 2016. (20% of the UK asset valuation.) This is despite missing key ecosystem services such as flood mitigation and tourism. Clearly this represents a huge and vital resource for Scotland's people and nature.
Overall, fossil fuels remain the largest single asset, accounting for 46% of the total asset value. However, renewable energy has grown three times as fast as any other provisioning service from 2004 to 2017.
Carbon sequestration was the second largest asset value, accounting for 21% of Scotland’s natural asset value. In 2017, carbon sequestration in Scotland made up 40% of the UK’s total value.
New ecosystem services measured
One obvious change from 2019 is that 13 service accounts are now measured, compared to 10 in the first study. All of last year’s services are again valued, including -
• Agricultural biomass;
• Fish capture
• Water abstraction
• Mineral production
• Oil and gas production
• Renewable energy generation
• Carbon sequestration
• Air pollutant removal
Additionally, new services for 2020 include...
• Urban cooling
• Noise mitigation
• House prices - Aesthetic
• House prices - Recreation
A focus on green infrastructure
Whilst any study across 13 services is by definition a broad one, it was notable that all three new services measured related substantively, or entirely, to value we obtain from green infrastructure in our towns and cities. This included...
• Urban cooling - it was estimated Edinburgh and Glasgow avoided £3.15 million in productivity losses due to the cooling effects of urban green spaces during 2018.
• Noise mitigation - The asset value of noise mitigation from vegetation in Scotland was £33 million in 2017. Noise pollution such as road traffic noise, causes adverse health outcomes through lack of sleep and annoyance. Vegetation acts as a buffer against noise pollution.
• House prices - Living near publicly accessible green and blue spaces added on average £2,393 to property prices in Scottish urban areas in 2016
Recreation was another key ecosystem service measured that related to green infrastructure. During 2017 over 1 billion hours were spent on visits for outdoor recreation in Scotland. Of this total, visits to urban outdoor areas (such as local parks and open spaces) made up the largest proportion of this time spent, some 47% of visits.
This underlines the huge importance of green infrastructure for recreation in an urban context. For people living in areas of lower socio-economic outcomes, often without access to private gardens, the proximity, quality and quantity of these spaces is hugely important.
This expanded data set can be a useful reference point for public and private sector planners and developers, policy makers, and practitioners working to promote or develop green infrastructure.
Future development of the Accounts?
One area in which we would like to see future focus is on the health and wellbeing benefits that flow from Scotland’s natural capital. To take the example of recreation once more, currently the number of visits to green spaces is measured, but the health and wellbeing benefits of those visits is not. Given an increased policy focus on the ‘Natural Health Service’ and social prescribing from health practitioners, it would be very useful to have the value of these benefits factored into future Accounts.
In other areas, biodiversity has proved one of the more problematic aspects of natural capital accounting, and we would welcome more development in this area. In particular measuring the value of eco-tourism would be very useful, given its significance to the economies of many of Scotland’s rural communities.
Scottish Forum on Natural Capital response
The Scottish Forum on Natural Capital welcomes the continued development of the Accounts as an important step forward in our understanding of the value of Scotland’s natural capital.
The Accounts can play an important role in raising awareness of the tangible benefits natural capital provides us, - whether mitigating the impact of climate change, removing harmful pollutants from the air, or providing opportunities for recreation and personal enrichment.
However a key challenge is to ensure that as the data continues to improve and become more extensive, it also provides good value. In practical terms, this means effecting policy and legislation choices, and influencing decision-making processes across business, and wider society.
We hope ultimately, that these accounts are given as much prominence as GDP, and other socio-economic considerations, in turn leading to greater efforts to protect and enhance our natural environment. With this aim in mind, we look forward to helping improve, promote, and disseminate Scotland’s Natural Capital Accounts into the future.
Read the full report here